What Leaders Do
By Shawn McGuirk,
n. a person or thing that leads. Random House Dictionary
do we mean when we use this term? When we say that someone is a leader,
or has leadership qualities? How do we know? What attributes do we identify
when making a statement such as this? How does anyone know what a true
leader is and what a true leader does? In essence; what makes someone
I may think
that someone is a leader because theyre honest, hard working, forthright,
and have demonstrated an ability to make important decisions. You may
believe that these attributes are applicable, but that it is preferable
for someone to be superbly intelligent, or that a person can motivate
others and make things happen.
is the correct definition of leadership? The truth is that
the qualities of leadership will manifest themselves in others several
different ways and at various times. We can take a look at history and
quickly discover that the qualities of leadership in one person will be
quite different than in another.
John F. Kennedy was a passionate, strong, effective and bold leader who
was able to make the most difficult decisions and inspire others. Someone
else may prefer to emulate a leader the likes of Mother Theresa, who gave
of herself selflessly so that others may survive and flourish. Yet another
may decide to look within their household; a parent, a sibling, or a child.
And so amidst
the definitions of leadership, and those that personify these definitions,
I submit that all of them have something in common. And so this will serve
as my personal definition on the topic:
n. a person or thing that demonstrates the courage to do something differently.
I would challenge anyone to argue this point. Whether those we think of as leaders lead a million people or one does not matter. What does matter is that they have discovered a way to inspire those they lead. I dont think the importance of being able to inspire another can be overstated. As Dale Carnegie states in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People:
I believe that
there are 4 things we must be able to do if we are going to be effective
leaders. They are:
enough to shift paradigms and see things differently
back to my personal definition of leadership. That a person must be able
to change focus, recognize that there is another way, and then move in
that direction. Colin Powell once said that effective leadership means
that others are willing to follow you if only out of curiosity. What better
way to instill curiosity than to promote the flow of creative thinking
those we lead find meaning in what we are asking them to do
face it, we have all been told to do things we may not have wanted to
do. Its a fact of life. So how do we help people find meaning in
what must be done? We invest in them. We show concern, we communicate,
and we talk with them and not at them. Ill share one sure-fire way
to find out whats important to people (its complex, so you
might want to write this down) - we ask them.
involvement of the process for those we are leading
to step #2 - Once we know what it is people want (what has meaning) we
can begin to get them involved in the process. How? We provide opportunity
for professional growth, which in turn demonstrates to them that we trust
that they will do what needs to be done. I remember someone saying during
a lecture once that its impossible to motivate people because they
are already motivated, and its our job to find out what that motivation
is and help them redirect it into completing the task at hand.
and recognize achievement.
be self-explanatory and obvious. Too often I have heard people say that
if you reward and recognize too much then it loses its meaning. WRONG!
How many of us come home from a long day at work thinking, my boss
praised me way too much today. Ill tell you - no one thinks
that. And no one else will think that if steps 1-3 are done in advance.
Instead it will continue to reaffirm in others that you think they are
doing a good job, and that you think enough of them to include them in
the process of decision-making. Understand that by this I do not suggest
that they will be making the decisions, but those you are trying to lead
will inevitably buy-in to your decisions if they know that
their opinions on the matter have been heard.
is it that makes someone a leader? Ultimately I believe that an effective
leader will constantly be in the process of creating leaders. How? By
having the courage to shift focus and try things differently, creating
meaning and involvement, and rewarding and recognizing improvement and
a job well done.
said to Fojian, When you give people tasks, probe them deeply to
see if they are sincere
Leaders are naturally honored when their
words are taken seriously; the community is naturally impressed when people
are chosen for their sincerity. (Zen Lessons, The Art of Leadership
Note: This article is adapted from a similar article written by the author that appeared in the September 99 Talking Stick.
About the Author
Shawn is Assistant Director for Residential Life and Judicial Affairs at Boston College. He has been involved in ACPA, ASJA and NEACUHO. He has presented on topics of leadership, communication, conflict resolution and supervision. Give him a good cup of coffee and conversation and hes happy.